A North American-market version of the Iveco Daily fullsize commercial van appears large on the drawing board of Chrysler’s Ram truck brand, while visions of a Dakota pickup successor seem fuzzy.
Ram President and CEO Fred Diaz suggests as much today in a Web chat with journalists from the State Fair of Texas where the truck maker unveils three new fullsize pickup models and announces expanded availability of its unique RamBox storage feature.
As the 2012 commercial-van launch looms, according to the 5-year product plan Chrysler divulged in 2009, Diaz says only the auto maker continues “to evaluate the market opportunities to deliver on customer needs in the Class 2, 3 and 4 commercial van segments.”
This points squarely at the prospect of a Daily-inspired Ram.
While the front-wheel-drive Fiat Ducato has been mentioned most frequently as a possible Ram van progenitor, its 8,818-lb. (4,000-kg) gross-vehicle-weight rating falls short of Class 3. But the rear-wheel-drive Daily, a product of Fiat’s thriving Iveco heavy-duty truck brand, spans Class 3 and tiptoes into Class 4 with its 15,000-lb. (6,804-kg) GVWR.
Ram product marketing director Bob Hegbloom told WardsAuto in July that Chrysler was pondering a 2-model strategy to attack the fullsize-van segment, even though the 5-year plan shows just one vehicle.
But on a volume basis, Class 2, the Ducato’s domain, shows considerably more promise than Classes 3 and 4, Hegbloom added.
Through August, sales of Class 2 trucks – which include pickups – totaled 1,077,065, according to WardsAuto data. That’s more than eight times the tallies of Class 3 and 4 combined.
Related document: Ward’s U.S. Truck Sales by Weight Class August 2011
“We are bullish on the commercial-van segment,” Diaz says today, adding the recently launched minivan-based Class 1 Ram CV is beginning to resonate in the market. “We have already received more dealer orders in one month than all of last year.”
Though guarded about Chrysler’s commercial-van plans, Diaz is even more evasive about prospects for a Dakota replacement. The small pickup, which has accounted for more than 2,450,952 sales since its 1986 launch, went out of production last month.
Chrysler’s 5-year plan shows a Dakota replacement possibly launching this year. But that will not happen.
“We continue to study all Fiat- and Chrysler-based platforms as a potential Dakota replacement,” Diaz says, discounting earlier buzz from within the company indicating the Fiat Strada’s platform had been eliminated from contention.
An informed source previously advised WardsAuto that the unibody Strada’s platform would not support a truck large enough to underpin a vehicle attractive to North American consumers. Says Diaz: “We have not ruled out any platforms.”
But the Ram chief is more than forthcoming about the brand’s fullsize pickups:
- Ram 1500 Express models will be available in Crew Cab and Quad Cab configurations for model-year ’12.
- 6Chrysler claims best-in-class performance with its new Ram 1500 Tradesman Heavy Duty, available in first-quarter 2012. Exclusively offered in 4x2 regular-cab configuration with an 8-ft. (2.4-m) bed, it boasts maximum towing and payload ratings of 11,500 lbs. (5,216 kg) and 3,100 lbs. (1,406 kg), respectively.
- Rambox, the cargo-bed sidewall storage feature launched in 2008 on light-duty fullsize Ram pickups, will be available on heavy-duty and Mega Cab models, as well as trucks with 6-ft 4-in. (1.93-m) cargo beds. Price: $1,295.
Rambox take-rates are tracking above 15%, Diaz says, adding anecdotal reports say consumers use to store items ranging from tool bags and safety gear to “frosty beverages” on ice. “My wife tells me that it’s become my new ‘man purse,’” he says.
The U.S. market’s fullsize-pickup segment is “starting to show good signs of recovery,” Diaz says, adding demand for premium trucks also is promising.
This time last year, Chrysler launched its duded-up Laramie Longhorn model, equipped with all-leather featuring a cowboy motif. Diaz does not reveal numbers, but says “dealer orders and sales have far exceeded our wildest expectations.”
On the strategy side, Diaz says the decision to split Ram products from the Dodge brand, a move made nearly two years ago today, was correct.
“We are very happy with the success of the separation,” he says. “This vision has given us the ability to be laser-focused on the wants and needs of the highly discriminating truck customer from a quality, capability durability and value perspective.”
Through August, sales of Ram fullsize light-duty pickups, Chrysler’s volume flagship, were tracking 12.7% ahead of like-2010, according to WardsAuto data.
Related document: Ward’s U.S. Light Vehicle Sales by Segmentation August 2011
“Our use of (actor) Sam Elliott as the voice of Ram has been an incredibly effective marketing strategy,” Diaz says. “We take pride in knowing how to market to truck customers.”
To this end, Ram also announces today an ambitious campaign to attract buyers in the nation’s fast-growing Hispanic community.
Dubbed “A Todo, Con Todo,” it means, “To everything I do, with everything I’ve got.” The Spanish-language commercials, which debut Oct. 3, feature the true stories of Texas truck owners Arturo Barcelo and Ascension Banuelos.
“Because Arturo and Ascension are actual Ram owners, they deliver genuine and authentic dialog emphasizing important Hispanic values, such as dedication and respect,” Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois says in a statement.